Elected ninth president of the flagship Southern Baptist Convention seminary in 1993 at age 33, Mohler came to power backed by a coalition called the “conservative resurgence.”
Leaders of the group believed denominational bureaucracies had become too liberal and detached from rank-and-file Southern Baptists. They set out to change that by systematically gaining majorities on the various boards of trustees and using those voting blocs to replace moderate agency heads with people more in line with conservative views.
Though he worked at Southern Seminary while a doctoral student, including serving as an assistant to his moderate predecessor President Roy Honeycutt, Mohler switched loyalties to the conservative side while editor of the Christian Index newspaper in Georgia between 1989 and 1993.
Mohler’s first clash as president came with Molly Marshall, the first and only woman ever to teach theology at Southern Seminary. Now president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan., Marshall left the Southern Seminary campus in Louisville, Ky., under threat of heresy charges in 1994.
That started an exodus of about 60 percent of the seminary’s faculty, who left either by force or voluntarily during the next four years. They were replaced by new professors that shared values of the conservative resurgence, including commitment to biblical inerrancy and traditional views on issues like the role of women in the church and home.
In 1995 Mohler fired Diana Garland as dean of the Carver School of Social Work over disagreement with his demand that all professors must affirm belief that the Bible forbids women from serving as senior pastors. Garland stayed on as a professor, but eventually moved to Baylor University, where she now serves as dean of the Baylor School of Social Work.
In 1997 Southern trustees voted to abolish the Carver School of Social Work altogether, on Mohler’s recommendation that the field of social work had grown so secularized and liberal that it no longer fit with the seminary’s mission. The Carver name was transferred to Campbellsville University, where it’s now called the Carver School of Social Work and Counseling.
In 1998 the seminary opened Boyce College of the Bible, expanding a program that formerly offered associate’s degrees into a four-year Bible college.
In 2004 Mohler established the Southern Seminary Center for Science and Theology, led briefly by William Dembski, a well-known proponent of the anti-evolution school of thought termed “intelligent design,” but now headed by young-Earth creationist Kurt Wise.
In 2005 the seminary redirected its Christian counseling department, moving away from the model of “pastoral care” integrating secular psychology with biblical training toward a church-centered approach focused only on the Bible.
That decision reversed a course set by Wayne Oates, who died in 1999. Oates taught 45 years at Southern Seminary, wrote more than 50 books on pastoral care and coined the term “workaholic.”
Mohler, who as a student at Southern Seminary once signed a petition affirming women in non-traditional ministry roles, also changed a climate that once encouraged women preachers to one that now emphasizes wifely submission in the home and women-to-women ministries in the church.
In 2006 Mohler hired Mary Kassian, a critic of feminism and a leader in the movement called “biblical womanhood,” as distinguished professor of women’s studies.
Last year Kassian helped organize a gathering of more than 6,000 women that launched an effort to collect 100,000 signatures on a “True Woman Manifesto” intended as a counter-revolution to the feminist movement of the 1960s.
In 2006 Southern also altered the approach of its School of Leadership and Church Ministry away from educational programs in churches that segregate people by age and gender, to a “family integrated” model built on discipleship centered in the home.
In 2001 Southern Seminary bestowed its highest honor, the E.Y. Mullins Distinguished Denominational Service Award, equivalent to an honorary doctorate, on Paige Patterson, a co-founder of the conservative resurgence.
In a ceremony dedicating a new Sesquicentennial Pavilion on campus April 21, Mohler wrote a letter to be sealed in a time capsule for 50 years that admonishes future generations to stay in line with biblical truth.
“What I basically did was write in such a way that if this institution isn’t theologically where it needs to be whenever that thing is opened, they’re going to know it,” Mohler said in a story in the campus newspaper. “It’s going to be the most embarrassing letter ever read if indeed this institution is not preserved in that way. That is our prayer, that it will be.”
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.